Sunday 21 October 2018

Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Spain - Once the Mighty Al-Andalus

The story of rise and fall of Muslim dominance of Spain is both of glory and heart wrenching sorrows for the rise to glory was attributed to the glory of Muslims and the Ummayad Empire of the time, but their end after almost 800 years of rule was a treacherous exodus, the details of which are known but to few today.

I would here not go into the details of how Muslims came to Spain, rose to glory and many battles and the famous Spanish Inquisition that finally led to the downfall of the once thriving mighty Al Andalus empire of Spain, but would dwell more on the imprints left behind the Muslims in everything from gastronomy to music, language and architecture, which can still be felt and seen even after the 17th century brutal exodus of the Muslims, called Moriscos or simply the Moors, by the then Spanish royalties as detested aliens. 

The Arabic names distorted into Spanish and English can still be felt of their Arabic heritage like Gibraltar from Jabal al Tariq (the present Rock of Gibraltar named after the Muslim commander Tariq bin Zayyad who brought his army on ships which was a cue to Muslim occupation of Hispania), Cordoba from Qurtaba and Grenada from Gharnata. The world famous architecture of Alhambra in Grenada continues till today with its original name which the Spanish present to the world as a prideful part of their culture.

The Muslim period in Spain is often described as a 'golden age' of learning where libraries, colleges, public baths were established and literature, poetry and architecture flourished. Both Muslims and non-Muslims made major contributions to this flowering of culture.  Islamic Spain is sometimes described as a 'golden age' of religious and ethnic tolerance and interfaith harmony between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Many Christians in Spain assimilated parts of the Muslim culture. Some learned Arabic, some adopted the same clothes as their rulers (some Christian women even started wearing the veil); some took Arabic names. Christians who did this were known as Mozarabs. Although, Muslims did not explicitly hate or persecute the non-Muslims, some writers of the view that the natives lived a like of second class citizens and that the Muslim attitude toward non-Muslims is one not of hate or fear or envy but simply of contempt. [3]

Although a significant proportion of Moriscos returned to Spain or avoided expulsion through various means, and the decree never affected the country's large enslaved Muslim population, the indigenous practice of Islam had faded into obscurity by the 19th century. Nevertheless, throughout modern history there has always been a constant presence of Muslims in Spain, many of which were former slaves (known as 'moros cortados') freed in the early 18th century. Furthermore, Spain's proximity to North Africa and its small land border with the Kingdom of Morocco (as well as a colonial presence in North Africa lasting between 1912 and 1975) made Muslim presence in Spain possible. [1]

Now a few words about the rise and fall of the Muslims in Spain, though the history books are required to know the over 800 years rule of the then Umayyad Muslim Empire and their conquest of Hispania. Hispania was the Latin name given to the whole Iberian Peninsula (covering the territories of present-day Spain and Portugal). Herein under is a brief history of Muslim conquest of Hispania and their final exodus: [1]
On April 30, 711, Muslim General Tariq ibn-Ziyad landed at Gibraltar and by the end of the campaign most of the Iberian Peninsula were brought under Islamic rule. This campaign's turning point was the battle of Guadalete, where the last Visigothic king, Roderick, was defeated and killed on the battlefield.
The Islamic rulers called the Iberian peninsula "Al-Andalus". For a time, the area that is today Spain and Portugal was one of the great Muslim civilizations, reaching its summit with the Umayyad Caliphate in the 10th century. 
The three major monotheistic religious traditions certainly did borrow from one another in Muslim-ruled Spain, benefiting especially by the blooming of philosophy and the medieval sciences in the Muslim Middle East.
However, after almost 800 years of rule, the Islamic control of Spain gradually eroded by the Christian Reconquista (The Reconquista is a name used in English to describe the period in the history of the Iberian Peninsula of about 780 years between the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in 711 and the fall of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada to the expanding Christian kingdoms in 1491.).
The final conquest of Spain culminated by the Treaty of Granada signed by Emir Muhammad XII of Granada, allowing the Spanish crown's new Muslim subjects a large measure of religious toleration. However 1492 started the monarchy's reversal of freedoms beginning with the Alhambra Decree. This continued when Archbishop Talavera was replaced by the intolerant Cardinal Cisneros, who immediately organized a drive for mass forced conversions and burned publicly thousands of Arabic books (manuscripts). In fact almost all books in Arabic, barring the valuable medical manuscripts which are still preserved in the Escorial library.
Beginning in Valencia in 1502, Muslims were offered the choice of baptism or exile. Nowhere to go, the majority therefore were forced to accept conversion, becoming known as "New Christians" or the "Moriscos" - them being  outwardly Catholic, continued to adhere to their old beliefs in private as crypto-Muslims. Responding to a plea from his co-religionists in Spain, in 1504 Ahmad ibn Abi Jum'ah, an Islamic scholar in North Africa, issued a fatwa, commonly named the "Oran fatwa", saying that Muslims may outwardly practice Christianity.
The clandestine practice of Islam continued till 1567 when  King Philip II finally made the use of the Arabic language illegal, and forbade the Islamic religion, dress, and customs, a step which led to the Rebellion of Alpujarras, involving acts of brutality. In one incident, troops commanded by Don John of Austria destroyed the town of Galera east of Granada, after slaughtering the entire population. 
'Edicts of Expulsion' for the expulsion of the Moriscos were finally issued by Philip III in 1609 against the remaining Muslims in Spain. The last mass prosecution against Moriscos for crypto-Islamic practices occurred in Granada in 1727, with most of those convicted receiving relatively light sentences. By this stage, the indigenous Islam is considered to have been effectively extinguished in Spain.
The 17th century exodus was most brutal exodus of a people in the annuls of history. Read more below.

Matthew Carr, the author of Blood and Faith, explains the harrowing details of the plight of the Moriscos, driven from their home country as detested aliens.
La Expulsión en el Puerto de Denia, painted by Vicente Mostre in 1613. 
Photograph: Public Domain

Matthew Carr in his book writes: [2]
I first heard about the expulsion of the 17th-century Spanish Muslims known as Moriscos back in 1992. I was familiar with the expulsion of the Jews by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, but I knew nothing of the tragedy of the Moriscos – known as “little Moors” – that took place more than a century later.
I was moved by the tragic fate of these forced converts to Christianity. They were marginalized and persecuted before the Spanish state decided they were incapable of becoming “good and faithful” Christians.
I read the key primary documents pertaining to the expulsion, and the often genocidal texts written by 17th-century anti-Morisco writers, like the sinister Dominican monk Jaime Bleda. I went to the imposing castle of Simancas, where the Spanish state archives are kept, where I was shown a file of letters to Philip II written by local mayors and magistrates during the brutal transportation of Morisco rebels from Granada to Castile in the winter of 1570. Most of these short messages described the appalling physical condition of the sick and starving men, women and children who passed before their eyes that harsh winter, and the impossibility of feeding or even clothing them. 
I visited with the local historian Miguel Aparici Navarro, who showed me the ruins of Morisco villages, and the great ridge known as the muella – where Morisco women had thrown themselves to their deaths with their children, rather than leave the country they considered their homeland.
The battles at Cortes de Pallás were celebrated in one of the triumphal paintings commissioned by Philip III to mark the occasion; today these paintings are kept in a bank in Valencia and not open to the public. These paintings were intended to glorify what many statesmen even then regarded as a crime. Like most documents pertaining to the expulsion.

Writing specifically on the events of actual exodus of the Muslims from Spain, here is how he paints the events of the grim days:
Poignant and often tragic scenes unfolded as the Moriscos were brought to the waiting ships. One old man arrived in Valencia declaring his wish to be buried on Muslim soil but dropped dead while boarding his ship. Other Moriscos died of hunger and exhaustion before leaving the shore. Some parents became separated from their children in the confusion; others left their children behind with local Christians. 
There were many such farewells as the exodus continued. Even as the Moriscos were boarding their ships, priests, monks, and zealous Christians pleaded with them to leave their children behind so that they could be brought up as Catholics … Doña Isabel de Velasco, personally persuaded many parents to leave their children behind – or had them kidnapped – for their spiritual salvation. Some Moriscos gave in to these opportunities because they felt unable to care for their children, but others defiantly refused, such as the Morisca who gave birth on the docks and then “embarked with the infant in her arms on a harsh, windy and very cold day,” according to a report by the Valencia Inquisition, and ignored the Christians who begged her to leave her baby with them.
This then is the very brief tail of the rise and tragic fall of the Muslims in the once mighty Al Andalus. You may read from the reference given below of Wikipedia which speaks volumes of the Muslims rule of Spain and Portugal and the gory details of their forced convictions and conversions.

Today, nearly two million Muslims in Spain make up over 4% of the population. The majority are from Morocco; other sizable Muslim communities include Pakistanis, Algerians, Senegalese and Nigerians. The Autonomous Communities with a higher Muslim population are Catalonia, Andalusia, Madrid and the Valencian Community. As per a survey, 59% of Muslims claimed that there is no particular hostility to their community within the country.

However, there are problems too to live life as per Islamic laws. As per a report published in 2016, it read that Spanish authorities were considering Islamic funerals incompatible with local laws that prohibit corpses being buried in direct contact with the soil. This issue and the allocation of more cemeteries for the community has become imperative for the almost two million Muslims living in Spain. “The only places in Spain where we are allowed to bury our dead according to our rituals are the regions of Andalucia and the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla (in North Africa),” said Riay Tatary, head of the Union of Islamic Communities in Spain. When progressive Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmona recently requested 10,000 square meters allocated to Muslims in a cemetery in the Spanish capital, the answer from the central government was “No.” The reason was that bureaucrats considered Islamic burial rituals as illegitimate. [6]

As per one report published in 2003 in The Telegraph, the Spanish Muslims after a wait of more than 500 years, have finally succeeded in building a mosque of their own in the shadow of the Alhambra, once the symbol of Islamic power in Europe. Though, many Spaniards are quietly unhappy. "Everybody is opposed to it, but they know it's politically impossible to voice their objections," said one local journalist. However it is resulted in graffiti such as "Moros fuera" ("Moors out!"). "Ignoring their promises to tolerate the Muslim faith, the Spaniards indulged in a wave of forced conversions, expulsions and killings. Mosques were demolished and churches built, often on the same spot," the report adds. 

Christians still convert to Islam despite Islam not being a welcome religion in Spain anymore. Looking out across the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Alhambra, Abdul Haqq, 42, a Basque who converted to Islam 12 years ago, said: "Granada has historically been the capital of European Islam. Some people convert because of their search for their roots - others like me joined as a matter of faith."

Recently there was a heart wrenching video of Adan that went viral, but later removed, on YouTube in the Alhambra palace, Grenada by a vising Syrian young man Mouaz Al-Nass which went viral on social media. When asked why he did so, he replied beautifully: "I felt that ‘the walls had missed hearing the call to Allah‘. And this sentiment is especially touching when you consider the tragic history of Islam in Spain." It may be added that the Alhambra palace, which was built by Muslim rulers in the 1330s, had not witnessed the Islamic call to prayer in nearly five centuries.

Recently there has been an emerging trend of Sufism among the Muslims of Spain. There are around 1,200 Spanish converts to this mystical form of Islam The biggest communities are in Granada and Cáceres. Most Spanish Sufis belong to the Naqshbandi order, which traces its spiritual lineage back to Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, the first Caliph and a companion of the prophet Muhammad. One Sufi convert has been quoted as saying: We converts are seen as strange. Islam isn't what people think it is. Islam is peace.”  Mansur, formerly José Carlos Sánchez, explains that Sufis live in the world without necessarily being of this world. “Every day I ask Allah to help me convert my ego into my prayer mat,” says the 41-year-old university graduate. “There is an undoubted rejection of Muslims in our society.” [7]

Recently there has been a UAE funded programme to help arrange and bear the expenses for Hajj from Spain to Saudi Arabia. The UAE embassy in Spain announces the offer of such grants at mosques, and each year it receives around 500 applications. And from this a slelected number of pilgrims are chosen this year - picked randomly. The main requirements for application are being a convert to Islam, over 40 years old and a low-income earner. The travel package of around 4,000 euros includes food, guides and even the sacrifice of a lamb, which every Muslim must partake in after the month of pilgrimage. [8]

You may now like to watch a very informative video titled "In the search of spirit of Al Andalus" which recounts the glory of Islam in Spain:
And before I end this rather long history of Islam in Spain, allow me to share a historical photo of Dr Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the national poet and dreamer of a separate homeland for Muslims of British Indian subcontinent. This photo was taken in 1933 when Dr Iqbal visited Cordoba and offered prayer in one of the Ummayad's time masjid in Cordoba. He then wrote a beautiful poetic work on this spiritual experience in the form a poem "Masjid-e-Qartaba (The Masjid of Cordoba)."
O’ sacred place of Cordoba, you exist because of Ishq
Ishq that’s wholly eternal, which does not come and go

Read the poem "Masjid-e-Qartaba (The Masjid of Cordoba)"with its English translation here.

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 34 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |
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